32. Hospital for Hire

Hospital for Hire

15 December 1973

Following on from the dual-thread lunacy of ‘Invasion of the Moon Creatures’, ‘Hospital for Hire’ seems rather a throwback—to the simpler, more innocent lunacy of Series 2! This is one of the lads’ ‘issues’ episodes, taking serious aim at the deplorable state of the National Health Service (plus a subsidiary jibe at medical quackery). The Super Chaps remain united throughout, pitted against a prominent guest star (Harry H. Corbett[1] as the feverish, allergy-plagued Minister of Health). The music is more jazz/rock infusion than soul/funk. There’s even a return to the halftime faux commercials:

Tim in his ‘Beanz Meanz Heanz’ schoolboy persona, listening to a bowl of Rice Crunchies that explodes in his ear.

All told, this is a Goodies offering out of place in the show’s own chronology. It is easily overlooked when calling to mind the standout episodes of each series, and yet rollicks along and makes its point well (at least initially). We start with a simple premise:

Tim watches on as Bill, wearing an oversize plaster cast, and Graeme, slapping his perfectly healthy leg, explain where they’ve been. Dialogue from the episode:
Tim: About time, too. Where have you been?
Graeme: We’ve been to the hospital. Sorry, they kept us waiting.
Tim: For three weeks?
Bill: Yeah. Even then we were lucky, you know. The bloke ahead of us died.
Tim: Three weeks for a sprained ankle?
Bill: And, what is more, they put this [points to his oversize plaster moon boot] on the wrong leg. Mmm! Should have been his.
Graeme: Yep. [slaps his own healthy shin] It’s all right now. It got better while we were waiting.

When Tim complains to the Minister of Health (no less), it is suggested to him in no uncertain terms—via the traditional, garbled burst of angry phone speech—that the Goodies should become doctors themselves and become part of the solution. Thus the lads undertake a ‘rigorous’ exam to see if each is ‘suitable for the life of a medical student’. This plays out to the strident, laid-back rocker strains of ‘Medical Man’, and sees the Super Chaps running around a greyhound track, swilling beer and chasing a mechanical nurse!

While levelled in a frivolous, frolicking manner, the accusation of hard-living masculinity nevertheless hits home—especially in that part of the exam where the lads pinch nurses’ bottoms and are graded on how far their willing victims (long)jump. This being the 1970s, our heroes (sadly) aren’t calling out female objectification, workplace harassment or sexual assault, yet the casual referencing does evoke a male-centric problem where doctors have chosen their careers for reasons other than humanitarian, and where the patients, like women more generally in society, are seen as collateral to that particular, toxically self-serving way of life.

Bill in leg plaster, with Tim and Graeme, running around a greyhound track in pursuit of a mechanical nurse; the lads sculling beer; lyrics from ‘Medical Man’:
You’ve gotta run, run, run, to be a medical man.
But you can have such fun when you’re a medical man.
You earn a whole lot of money as a medical man.
So be a doc-tor!
You’ve gotta race, race, race, to be a medical man.
You get a red, red face when you’re a medical man.
And then the nurses gonna chase you; you’re a medical man.
So be a doc-tor!

Having passed their student entrance exams, the lads are fast-tracked to internship and on-the-job training. (Tim, who’s been in residence a whole day, instructs Bill and Graeme!) Stripped of the surrounding programme, the hospital ward scenes[2]—rubbish-strewn, festering—are enough to turn stomachs. We’re shown a broken system in full-blown reductio ad absurdum. Even the corny jokes carry a morbid truth:

The Goodies dressed in doctors’ white coats. Bill and Graeme watch on as Tim holds up a coil of actual rope. Dialogue from the episode:
Tim: Oh, ah. You must be the new medical students.
Bill: Yes, Tim.
Tim: Well, I’m an old hand here. If you like, I’ll show you the ropes.
Bill: Oh, thank you.
Tim: Here they are.
Bill: What are those for?
Tim: In case there’s a fire, you tie them to the nearest beam and hang yourself. Much quicker, less painful.

More dialogue from the episode:
Bill: Dear, dear. This ward’s a disgrace!
Tim: Yeah, you should have seen it before it was modernised.
Graeme: This place, it’s not fit for pigs!
Tim: That’s just what the RSPCA man said. Pigs left on Monday.

If ‘Hospital for Hire’ can be criticised, it will be for making its point early and then backing away from it. Yes, the Super Chaps are appalled by what they find. They vow to put their own unique spin on doctoring. But of course their DIY-styled, supposedly patient-serving travelling hospital turns out to be just the usual, outrageously gag-filled ineptitude of misapplied home logic: force-fed pills; over-exuberant bandage wrapping; bath tubs full of plaster; conveyor-belt surgery (with sewing machine sutures!); x-rays that produce actual skeletons. It’s all very funny, again playing out to ‘Medical Man’, but doesn’t leave the patients any better off!

For that, we’re given the Goodies Medicine Show—a toe-tapping, faith-healing ear-worm of a con job:

The Goodies on stage, preaching their elixir to a wild west–styled crowd; lyrics from the Goodies Medicine Show:
Bill: And you’re going to be cured.
Crowd: We’re gonna be cured?
Bill: Yeah, you’re gonna be cured.
Crowd: We’re gonna be cured!
Bill: Your body will be revived and you’re gonna be cured.
Crowd: Yeah, yeah!
Bill: ‘cause the doctor’s gonna fix ya—
Graeme: ...with a bottle of this elixir.
Crowd: We’re gonna be cured?
Bill: You’d better believe—
Crowd: We’re gonna be cured!

Somewhere along the line, the lads have given up actual medicine and are trying to get rich on cure-all elixir at £5 per bottle. That the medicine proves efficacious comes as a great shock (Graeme: ‘Good grief, the stuff works’), and restores their sense of purpose. They proceed to treat every sick person in the country—including the elderly and the dead!—sneaking past the minister’s armed guards to the tune of one of Bill’s recurrent, scratchy-kazoo instrumentals. During the ensuing chaos, the Goodies themselves are injured and end the episode in plasters, no elixir left and no Health Service to turn to (it’s been shut down due to their success!).

The moral? Don’t try to monetise medicine? Don’t tear down a system unless you’ve something to replace it with? Be thankful for what you’ve got, even if it’s next-to-useless?

To be honest, this isn’t really clear. ‘Hospital for Hire’, despite its heavy subject matter, is actually rather a light episode. The musical sequences, if we include the Goodies Medicine Show, account for fully half the running time—all good stuff, but not especially droll or incisive. Even the sublime comedic flourishes tend towards the physical, such as Graeme’s tumble into the beanbag while reaching for a phone that turns out to be where he lands, not where he was aiming for!

Perhaps, in the end, the lads realise there isn’t a quick or obvious fix. Maybe there’s nothing they can do except… what they’re already doing? ie. making people laugh.

Because (self-conscious cringe) isn’t that the best medicine?

Jacob Edwards, 15 December 2023


Graeme consulting clipboard as a skeleton wanders out from behind the X-ray screen; Harry H. Corbett as the Minister for Health; Tim talking on the phone while brewing elixir; Bill strumming a banjo.

Tim and Bill attempt to bandage a patient by running around him in opposite directions. Bill gets caught up and wrapped alongside his charge. Lyrics from ‘Medical Man’:
You’ve gotta sing, sing, sing, when you’re a medical man.
You never feel a thing when you’re a medical man.
And all the ladies gonna swing ya; you’re a medical man.
So be a doc-tor!

The Goodies sneak a look at their target: a chained-up ambulance being guarded by a male nurse with an automatic rifle.

The Goodies back at the office, heavily wrapped in plaster; Tim and Bill hanging upside down.

[1] Of Steptoe and Son fame; not to be confused with Harry [no ‘H’] Corbett, creator of the glove puppet Sooty. As noted by Andrew Pixley in Super Chaps Three, the Minister’s Sooty-tissues are an allusion to this mistaken identity–inducing similarity in names.

[2] Crippen Ward, after the infamous Dr. Crippen.

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